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Lee Clegg

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence on what grounds he decided that Lee Clegg could be paid retrospectively for loss of salary while in prison; and by what contractual arrangement he was required to make such a payment. [134885]

Mr. Spellar: The Army Pay Warrant (1964) directs the terms under which Army personnel are paid. In accordance with this Royal Warrant, pay was forfeited for the period of imprisonment awarded to Corporal (Cpl) Clegg. Following successful appeals, Cpl Clegg's convictions were quashed. As a result Cpl Clegg has no convictions against his name, and there are no regulations to prohibit the award of the pay that had been previously withheld.

Force Research Unit

Mr. McNamara: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the costs were of his attempts to prevent the Sunday People publishing articles concerning the activities of the Force Research Unit and allegations of collusion and loyalist paramilitaries. [134886]

Mr. Hoon: The Ministry of Defence's costs for this case are currently estimated at approximately £28,000. The Sunday People is paying its own costs.

The Ministry of Defence made an application to the Court because there was good reason to believe that the Sunday People intended to print information that could put lives at risk and damage national security.

The Court made Orders (agreed between the newspaper and MOD) on 13 October which include provisions preventing the newspaper publishing certain information of that kind.


Portcullis House (Refreshment Facilities)

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Chairman of the Catering Committee when the Refreshment Department's facilities in Portcullis House will be available for use by hon. Members and staff. [136289]

Mr. Dennis Turner: I fully understand the disappointment of hon. Members who had expected to be able to make use of refreshment facilities in Portcullis House as soon as the offices were ready for occupation.

I am pleased to advise the hon. Member that "the debate" self-service restaurant and "the adjournment" brasserie on the ground floor of Portcullis House are expected to be handed over to the Refreshment Department on Monday 6 November. Thereafter, the Refreshment Department will require a period of three to four weeks to move their equipment and produce onto the site, complete staff training and conduct trial runs for the restaurant facilities.

It is also expected that the first floor areas will be handed over to the Refreshment Department on Monday, in which case services to the meeting and conference rooms will be able to commence within the next two weeks.

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The Director of Catering Services has advised me that she hopes to be in a position to open full services in time for the State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday 6 December, but that bookings for "the adjournment" or the supply of refreshments to the first floor meeting rooms cannot be made until the premises have been formally handed over the Refreshment Department.

The coffee bar to be positioned in the covered courtyard will not be in place until early in the New Year.


Gas Supplies

Mr. Bill O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will discuss with the suppliers of gas to industry measures to offset major price increases of gas in the near future, which will have an effect on manufacturing industry; and if he will make a statement. [135264]

Mrs. Liddell: Since the spring, the wholesale price of gas has risen sharply and this has had an effect on many industrial and commercial customers, especially those who have contracts tied to the spot price. The main reason for this rise has been increased trade across the GB-Belgium interconnector reflecting high oil-related gas prices, particularly in north-west Europe.

The Government are concerned about this rise. Work is already in hand to boost liberalisation and competition in Europe and thus break the link between gas and oil prices which keeps European prices higher than would otherwise generally be the case. This is the most effective long-term means of ensuring the competitive gas prices industry seeks. However, it is likely to take some time.

Meanwhile, the Government are already in dialogue with participants in the industry about the gas price rise and this is being intensified. However, it is not the role of the Government to influence the prices charged by individual companies.

Pensions (Post Offices)

Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what arrangements have been put in place to ensure that those who choose to draw pensions in cash will continue to be able to do so at post offices. [135866]

Mr. Alan Johnson: The Government are committed to ensuring that all state benefit and pensions recipients who wish to do so will continue to be able to access their benefits in cash in full, at a post office counter both before and after the changeover to payment of benefits by automated credit transfer. The Post Office and the banks are currently discussing arrangements for the provision of Universal Banking services at post offices to facilitate this.

Job Losses (Electronics Industry)

Mr. Wigley: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has received on his industrial policy for the electronics industry in relation to job losses announced by Panasonic and Sony in Wales; and if he will make a statement. [135650]

6 Nov 2000 : Column: 14W

Dr. Howells [holding answer 30 October 2000]: I have not received any representations from the electronics industry in relation to the recent announcements by Panasonic and Sony.

With the transfer of devolved powers to the National Assembly for Wales, such representations would be referred to them.

Of course, I very much regret the job losses. The NAW is working closely with local partners and the Department for Education and Employment to provide assistance to those affected.

Michael German (National Assembly Deputy First Minister) and David Rowe Beddoe (Chairman of the Welsh Development Agency) met with senior managers from Panasonic on 27 October 2000 and Mr. German attended the meeting of the Welsh Electronics Forum on 31 October 2000. The Forum has established a special taskforce to deal with the after effects of job losses in the consumer electronics sector in Wales which will meet in the very near future.

The Government were alerted to the announcements prior to their publication on a confidential basis. Such decisions are ultimately commercial ones for the companies to take themselves to ensure their long term future. It is not the Government's policy to intervene in such decisions. In such a competitive sector as consumer electronics where companies operate on a global scale, costs are under constant review. It would be surprising, and rather worrying, if companies did not feel the need to re-assess and re-structure their operations from time to time.

Both companies are still employing around 3,000 people in Wales between them and are committed to continuing their presence in Wales. Both are hoping to bring new higher value, more sophisticated production to their Welsh plants in the near future, and are investing heavily in their research and development facilities in Wales. This demonstrates the confidence that both companies have in the UK.

The best contribution that the Government can make is to secure long term economic stability based on low inflation and sound public finances. This will allow business to invest and plan ahead with confidence.

Shipbuilding Communities Campaign

Mr. Sarwar: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the proposed establishment of a shipbuilding communities campaign modelled on the Coalfields Campaign. [136555]

Mr. Alan Johnson: We have received no representations about such a proposal. However, as my hon. Friend is no doubt aware, we already have a very active and successful group for addressing the industry's concern, i.e. the Shipbuilding Forum. The Forum--which brings together industry, Government and the unions--has played a very constructive role in producing pragmatic solutions to the industry's concerns over the past two and a half years.

6 Nov 2000 : Column: 15W


Mr. Maclennan: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he will announce his decision on managing PFR fuels at Dounreay. [136104]

Mrs. Liddell [holding answer 2 November 2000]: A public consultation was undertaken as part of this decision-making process. This raised a number of very different points of view. It has taken longer than expected to assess these. A decision will be announced as soon as this assessment is complete.


Dan Norris: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) what plans he has to improve access for ex-miners in Somerset to the Medical Assessment Process from a centre nearer to the area; [136459]

Mrs. Liddell: There are currently 321 registered claims in the Somerset area. To date, Healthcall has received 79 completed sets of claims documentation--including claims questionnaires; financial and other losses questionnaires; and the Mandates required to access claimants medical records. Of these, 11 have been tested, and Healthcall is searching for the medical records of the remaining 68 cases.

Healthcall currently has premises in Bristol that originally accommodated a set of COPD testing equipment. Due to the current lack of claimants ready to test in the Somerset area with completed claims documentation, this set of equipment was moved to meet demand in the South Wales area. The Bristol centre will be re-opened shortly to accommodate the claimants in the surrounding area.

Healthcall is currently considering establishing a centre nearer to the bulk of the claimants in the Somerset areas.

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